Beyond Total Capture: A Constructive Critique of Lifelogging

Posted on January 9, 2011

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Beyond Total Capture: A Constructive Critique of Lifelogging is a CACM article on lifelogging where the authors surveyed current research on lifelogging and provided suggestions. I’ve been also interested in the idea of ubiquitous and automatic capturing of personal information since the Life-Optimization Project I did before joining UMass CIIR, so this was an interesting read for me.

The article starts by mentioning the vision of lifelogging, and making the distinction of lifelogging from other PIM activities as follows:

… Note that we distinguish between lifelogging and other more deliberate activities involving the capture of personal data (such as digital photography and blogging) that involve the effortful selective capture and display of digital materials for a particular audience. In contrast, lifelogging seeks to be effortless and all-encompassing in terms of data capture. …

They outline potential benefits for memory by describing the ways such systems might support “the five Rs,” or the activities they call recollecting (past experience), reminiscing (emotional events), retrieving (specific information), reflecting (to gain different perspective), and remembering intentions (prospective events). It was interesting for me that the application of lifelogging system can extend to almost all uses of human memory.

Then they argue that, despite early positive results, more recent research should make us skeptical, adding that records may be less useful than we might first think. They further point out that many lifelogging systems lack an explicit description of potential value for users, focusing instead on technical challenges. For instance, they say, even when—contrary to lifelogging principles—we deliberately choose to save digital memorabilia, we seldom access them.

As a solution, lifelogging research, they suggest, should  build on understanding of human memory and when and how memory fails, focusing on addressing those difficulties. Another point is that the design of a system should depend on the type of memory (Five R’s) it tries to support. They provide the following examples:

  • It is well known in the psychological literature that there are strong connections between these autobiographical memories and visual images. This suggests that the interfaces for such systems should focus on images as the backbone of their design.
  • Systems for retrieval need not be concerned with recollection, but rather with efficient ways of searching though large heterogeneous collections of data and so provide access to metadata that might support effective search.
  • Systems for reflection might be different still where abstraction is important, offering flexible and novel methods for viewing personal data in ways that might surprise, provoke, or educate users.
  • Designing systems to support remembering intentions need to focus on delivering timely cues in appropriate contexts if they are to provide effective reminders.

As I noted in my previous post, the general lesson here seems to be that any system intended for human should be designed with the consideration of the intended use first. Jef Raskin’s message is painfully relevant here.

Once the product’s task is known, design the interface first; then implement to the interface design

In the end, Lifelogging is a burgeoning field of research, which people are just starting to get excited about in the real world ( Visit http://quantifiedself.com/ ), and this kind of feedback will be very helpful for its growth.

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Posted in: HCI, PIM